Notes on the Asia Society Philippine Foundation – Travels on a Shoestring Budget Lecture

From Asia Society Philippine Foundation's page
This poster caught my attention last week. I travel cheaply and I very much enjoy a full-packed (almost no idle time) itinerary. There really are things that you need to be frugal on just so you could have 15 minutes of parasailing, unless, of course, if you want to give it all away and splurge. I like listening to stories and researching for tips on how things can be done the budget-friendly way.  There's a certain satisfaction that I get whenever I pull out my notes at the end of the day to calculate my expenses and finding out that I just spent a fraction of the budget. This lecture was just perfect. I needed some pointers.
The lecture was started off by Harvey Keh, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippine Foundation.  

First on the podium was Anton Diaz, owner of food and travel blog Our Awesome Planet and founder of Maven Secrets, where he teaches blogging for a living and internet marketing. He started his blog as an online journal that his kids can read when they grow up.

Anton spoke of shoestring travels as not necessarily focusing on the cost but on the experience and the value for money.  One can go and scrimp to have the cheapest trip expense but it will all boil down to this equation:

ROI in Travelling = Value of experience / Cost

He shared several tips to cut on costs: travel off-peak (except for festivals), insist on local food, find deals, plan a year ahead, stay in local inns or homes, road trip with 5-8 persons, do local research, join photo contests (as the prizes are usually round-trip tickets), and allot P500/month budget for travel.
He also mentioned some notable activities and I took down most of the things I haven't done yet:
 - Pahiyas Festival on May 15
 - Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung 5-way Lechon in Pampanga
 - Chico River White-water Rafting
 - Fundacion Pacita Boutique Hotel in Batanes
 - Underground River in Palawan
 - Kayaking at the Big Lagoon in El Nido
 - Watching the whale sharks at Donsol, Sorsogon or at Oslob, Cebu
 - Mapawa River Trek in Cagayan de Oro
 - Canyon Swing in Danao, Bohol
Anton also shared some insights on seeing the usual place in a different light. Think of Baguio's Session Road and Camp John Hay. Everyone goes there and both places no longer represent Baguio the way it did before. Finding someone from that place who can show you the authentic and less touristy areas will make you see Baguio as it was years ago. Find the off-the-beaten path.
Next to share her experiences was Nina Fuentes of Just Wandering.  She has been a featured blogger in Lonely Planet and her blog has been named as Nuffnang Asia Pacific's Best Travel Blog. Her blog is my personal favorite because of the bit-by-bit breakdown of trip expenses that she posts.

Unlike Anton who travels with his family and friends, Nina started out as a solo traveler.  It started when she was 26 and felt stumped with her life that she decided to embark to Bangkok on her own.  From then on, she has been travelling the rest of South East Asia and Morocco, and soon, to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup.

Nina works as a virtual assistant so her job allows her to go on long trips. Her trips include: Vietnam-Thailand-Malaysia (P42,000 for 15days), Morocco (P37,000 for 18days excluding the P42,000 airfare), and Brunei-Myanmar-Malaysia (P43,000 for 11days).
I envy her long trips but I don't have the luxury of missing work for 2 weeks so my weekend escapes and occasional 2-day leaves will do, for now.
Her bits of wisdom include: going for longer trips to save up on airfares, couch surfing, and conversing with the locals.
Last to speak was Ivan Henares of Ivan About Town. Ivan has visited all of the country's 80 provinces and is a travel writer, heritage advocate, TV host, and a lecturer at UP Diliman.

He showcased photos of the provinces and I took down some of the places and activities to include in my to-go/to-do list:
-  Batanes
- Sand Dunes and Sand boarding in Ilocos Norte
- Sierra and Callao Caves in Cagayan
- Isabela
- Nueva Vizcaya
- Ifugao Rice Cycle (June/ January)
- Aurora
- Bataan Turtle Sanctuary
- Road trip around Laguna de Bay
- Capul, Northern Samar
- Pink Island in Zamboanga
- Agusan Marsh (reminded me so much of Inle Lake) 
His tips for international travels: book early for accommodations but check others for cheaper rates when you get there, check Agoda and Roomorama for cheaper rentals, buy from seat sales, buy multi-day train passes, check out car rentals (eg. for cross country trips in Europe), and by referring to the Unesco World Heritage list for starters.
When asked what are the best places they have been to, Nina was quick to answer Batanes and Myanmar (that's one down for me), Ivan said Palawan, Batanes, and Bicol, while Ivan, whose interest is inclined towards architecture, chose Batanes, Bohol, and Cebu. See the common answer? That makes me want to plan for Batanes all the more.
At the end of the lecture, I had more places to visit and things to do in my list and I was inspired to continue striving to see, hear, and explore more. 
Invest on experiences, stick to your budget but do not be stingy, and reward yourself with luxurious hotel rooms.. once in a while. 🙂

Photos by Aaron Manila.

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